We must seek the greater light

  • December 30, 2009
Epiphany (Year C) Jan. 3 (Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72; Ephesians 3:2-3, 5-6; Matthew 2:1-12)

What does Epiphany mean in 2010? Epiphany has been celebrated for more than 2,000 years since the birth of Jesus but each year we must ask again what it means for us in our present situation lest it becomes just another feast on the liturgical calendar.

At first glance, it might seem that darkness — thick darkness — still covers the Earth and its peoples. This prophecy was originally given to a people in deep distress — a captive people in exile. It was a message of hope and encouragement: light appears when the darkness seems most suffocating and overwhelming. God is never absent and there is always an illuminated path out of the darkness. The Israelites were freed and their nation was restored although in a rather pale and weakened form.

But what is our own situation?  Violence is still with us. The environment is still in serious peril. Hatred, fanaticism and intolerance of all varieties poison our societies. And this year the suffering resulting from the economic crisis has been added to our list of woes.

So where is the light? The light is all around us piercing the darkness in so many ways. For example, Greg Mortenson (Three Cups of Tea, Stones Into Schools) promotes peace and interreligious understanding by building schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Groups of Christians, Jews and Muslims take great risks to meet together and engage in dialogue and the pursuit of peace. Environmental awareness has been raised by the tireless efforts of so many individuals and groups. Millions of quiet acts of generosity and kindness on the part of anonymous individuals each day illuminate the lives of many.

A certain amount of sensitivity and openness is required to see it. Dwelling and focusing on the negative and revelling in humanity’s failings will guarantee that we miss the light when it passes by. The light of God is within each one of us if only we open our hearts to its presence.

We all love a mystery — something secret and hidden. Almost any book can be marketed with the promise of secret revelations. But the author of Ephesians speaks of the greatest and most wonderful mystery of all — that of the divine inclusion of all humanity. God is not particular to a people, place or religion and all are invited into relationship.

As in every age, often the light is seen by those from afar — those on the outside — but not by those closest to it. The story of the visit of the magi has always captivated people. There is no evidence that they were kings — they were priests or holy men from Persia and beyond. And there could have been more than three for the text merely uses the plural. But it is clear that they underwent a long and arduous journey merely to see and worship this divine figure coming into the world. Was the “star” that they followed a star or an interior light? Possibly the latter, but whatever it was, it led them unerringly to the place where God was breaking into human history. The magi were open and earnestly seeking — alert and sensitive to the movements of the heavens and the quiet but powerful signs of the divine in human history. They followed the light and arrived at an even greater light.

God seldom makes an appearance in expected or accepted ways or places. Clinging to our own spiritual understanding or opinions because of fear of the unknown or of change can blind us to the movement of God through our world. Humanity seems to be at an impasse — we are trapped in our traditions, ideologies and the political, economic and social systems that we have built. But a willingness to listen to the intuition of the heart can lead us out of our comfort zone and to a deeper encounter with God and a transformed world.

But fear can be a powerful enemy and there is no more fitting example than that of Herod. He is terrified of change and of losing power and does everything in his power to snuff out the light at its first appearance. We all share a bit of Herod but for the sake of our world we need to encourage and nurture what we share of the magi.